Kids are people too…

**Just a quick clarification – this post is not about treating children exactly the same as we treat adults in every situation. It is about treating children with respect, and reflecting on our actions and reactions when it comes to the children in our lives.**

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I recently asked my 6-year-old son if he thinks most adults like children. He said no. I asked if he thinks most adults treat children fairly or with respect. He said no. I asked if he thinks adults bully children. He said yes. (He did clarify that he wasn’t talking about me, but what he has observed).

Most of us want our children to be kind, loving, fair, respectful people, yet our actions as adults tell a different story. The vast majority of adults in our society treat children as inconveniences. Children are bullied, bribed, humiliated, and tolerated on a daily basis.

You may not agree. But I challenge you to really think about how children are treated. Would you like to be treated in the way children are treated?

Take a look at these scenarios below:

– A friend comes over for a drink and chat. We are sitting together on the couch when my friend gets distracted and knocks my drink over. I scold her, telling her to be more careful, threatening to never have a drink with her on the couch again.

– During a particularly intimate moment,  my partner opens up to me, revealing their vulnerability, telling me one of their biggest fears. I dismiss them, telling them that’s silly and they have no reason to be scared.

– My work colleague is tired and feeling deflated. They have had a long day, and everything is going wrong for them. They go to the staff kitchen for their favourite drink, but there is none left. Then they accidentally drop their mug and it smashes into hundreds of pieces. They fall to their knees, completely overwhelmed, and burst in to tears. Another colleague and I laugh as we patronisingly tell them they shouldn’t be so sensitive, and to stop crying.

– My house mates find it hard to get along sometimes. They live together every day, and they get angry, yell and argue from time to time. I have had enough, so I make a ‘get along’ t-shirt and tell them they must both wear it until they ‘get along’. I also take pictures of them, squashed together in the shirt. They look defeated and embarrassed. I post the picture on the internet for the whole world to see…humiliation is a powerful deterrent.

– I go out to dinner with a group of friends. We have a great time, and after our meals I offer to buy everyone ice creams.  As the shop attendant passes out the cones, my friends smile with appreciation and start eating. None of them say thank you, so I take each cone from them and throw them in the rubbish bin to teach them a lesson about manners.

– My Mum asks me if I can get her glasses from the kitchen bench. I ask her why she can’t get them herself. She says she is tired. I let out an annoyed sigh and reluctantly get her glasses, telling her that she is old enough to get them herself.

– My Dad has an unusual habit of talking to himself. Sometimes people stare and laugh.  I am concerned about him, so take him to the Doctor. The Doctor, his assistant, and I discuss my father’s sometimes embarrassing habit in every detail, right in front of him, occasionally we make a joke, or look at him with concern. He can hear everything we are saying, but we do not include him in the conversation. I also post a video of him talking to himself on the internet (without his consent) to get other people’s opinions. It doesn’t cross my mind that the internet is forever, and my Dad might not appreciate his personal issues available for all to see.

– I care for my elderly grandfather.  He is unable to walk or speak, and needs help with many daily tasks.  During the day I obligingly help him with what he needs. But night-time is a different story. I bathe him, help him with his evening meal, put an adult nappy on him, and say goodnight. If he cries out for me during the night I ignore him until morning. He couldn’t possibly need anything from me that can’t wait until morning. He needs to learn how to cope on his own at night.

In these scenarios I’m a bit of a jerk right? A bully. Disrespectful, rude, patronising, unfair and unreasonable; sometimes just plain mean, and even cruel. This kind of behaviour is no way to treat another human being. And yet, for some reason, this is seen as a normal and acceptable way to treat children. Why? Because they aren’t adults yet? Because they are kids and haven’t reached some arbitrary age, so we can treat them like they aren’t people with real feelings?

I’m not perfect, I have been the adult in some of these scenarios with my own children. And, I have been the child in these scenarios in times past too. I’m sure we all have. Because so often, our society doesn’t really treat children as people, and this belief gets passed on from generation to generation. We have all been bullied, humiliated, talked over and laughed at by adults in our life. And so have our parents, and theirs and on and on. And it feels really shitty to be that child.

Some may argue that children are ‘acting out’ or ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’, and so need to be treated this way so their behaviour changes. But adults forget, that children are not adults. Yes, they can act in ways that are frustrating, confusing or exasperating to us, but they are still so young. Their brains are still developing, and they are not capable of acting in all the appropriate or ‘right’ ways yet. They still have so much to learn….from us.

The idea that children must earn our respect, and are ours to be trained and moulded, and tolerated until they act appropriately, or reach some capricious age, is harmful. It is putting conditions on your relationship. It only serves to push them away, make them fearful, angry, confused, and eventually repeat the same behaviour with those who are smaller, slighter, vulnerable.

Children learn from what we do, so let’s break the cycle, and set a better example. If we stuff up (and we will), apologise and keep going. Let’s treat them how we would like to be treated, because, in the words of Dr Seuss, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

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Image of a small white child in blue pants and a white dress with horses on it. The child is taking a big step up a set of stairs, whilst holding on to an adult’s hand.
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26 thoughts on “Kids are people too…

  1. many of these scenarios are things I wouldn’t do as a parent – taking the ice creams, laughing at a child in meltdown, get along shirt. but some of the others just don’t work as analogies when you transfer them from a child to an adult. no, I wouldn’t be cross if my adult friend knocked a drink over – and honestly I’m not that bad when my child does it – but the fact is, adults generally are careful NOT to knock drinks over and children aren’t. if my friend knocked a drink over every time they came over, yeah, we might have to have a conversation about that. same with the elderly parent asking you to get something for them. the fact is, an elderly person probably doesn’t have the same energy level as a child, but even more so, children are naturally self-centered. my teenager frequently asks me to get things for her because she doesn’t want to stop what she’s doing, and/or because she’s growing up and wants to still feel cared for as a child. sometimes I get them, sometimes I good naturedly tell her to get them, and sometimes I get quite exasperated because she’s being thoughtless. children get treated differently from adults because they ARE different from adults, because they are learning skills adults have (hopefully) mastered, and because they often feel free to make demands on a parent that an adult friend wouldn’t dream of making.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree that many of these scenarios I wouldn’t do either, sadly many parents do though. The ice cream example was related to an internet story that went viral – a parent did this to her children after they failed to say thank you in an ice-cream store. Similarly the ‘get along’ t-shirt has been shared in many memes across Facebook, as well as parents ‘making fun’ of their children in melt down. The majority of comments to these stories were praising the parents or laughing at the children. 

      I also agree that adults and children can and do get treated differently depending on the situation, because they are different in how they behave and respond, and that is ok; different is OK.

      The problem lies in the common lack of respect for children, where in a similar situation between adults, respect is almost always a given. 

      There is always a respectful way of treating any human being, regardless of age or situation. And the fact is that many adults do not treat children with respect purely because they are children. 

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    2. While I agree that children are different, I think the secondary point is will they learn skills andi dependence from being punished, tolerated or bullied. Will expressing annoyance at them compel them to do more? Or Will it perpetuate a negative cycle and defensiveness or more acting out? So then the next step is understanding how positive parenting grounded in neuroscience and respectful, breaks these cycles.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. 😊 I appreciate you sharing. It is my hope that people are able to think about their interactions with children a little more, and maybe make some changes so that life for everyone is more peaceful and respectful.

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  2. Thank you for posting this. I am a member of a FB group that is v aware of all kinds of oppression but I’ve never read anything on there about the way we oppress children in our society. I have been meaning to write something similar but you expressed it far more eloquently than I could have. Thank you.

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  3. I agree, I really do. I try to treat my children respectfully and usually succeed, but let’s look at a different example.

    You car pool with your husband to work. He is watching tv in the morning when you say “it’s almost time to go, hon.” He ignores you. A couple of moments later you suggest that he might want to put his shoes on because you are both going to be late. He shouts at you “no! I won’t!!”. At this point do you think you would respond to him respectfully and politely? Probably not.

    But a child deserves more respect in this situation because they are still learning how to regulate themselves and what behaviors are appropriate, so we should be patient with them.

    This is why I don’t like comprisons between how we treat children versus adults. They are not the same

    I wouldn’t throw my kids ice cream away if they didn’t say thank you, but I would remind them that it is polite to say thank you because it is my job to raise then to be polite, respectful adults. I wouldn’t correct my friend because it isn’t any of business.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Cindy.

      It is true that we wont always treat adults and children in the same way in many situations, for many different reasons. But, there is a respectful way to behave or respond towards children in all of these situations; unfortunately it is generally seen as ok to treat children with much less respect compared to another adult. And that is the point I was trying to convey.

      I try my best to be respectful and loving too, but do slip on occasion. It isn’t always easy. I just hope this post gets people thinking a little more about respectful, peaceful parenting.

      Sounds like you are doing a wonderful job.

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  4. Thank you for this article! It’s really nice. I’ve just shared it with the National Youth Rights Association’s facebook discussion group. NYRA supports the rights of young people, from the foundation of a broad understanding that the oppression of young people is a type of oppression tied into all other oppressions. You can learn more about them at youthrights.org .

    Like

  5. This is beautifully done. Children do what we model for them. When we treat our children with human respect and dignity, they have both the skills and the emotional room to reciprocate. Thank you for this thoughtful and constructive blog.

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  6. I don’t have kids of my own yet but I do have a step-son who is a wonderful boy and is respectful to me and many people. When I walk through town and see the way some people talk to their kids I do think to myself will I be like when I have kids or would I speak to my step-son like that? Most of the time my answer is no and I like to think I would handle situations differently.
    I loved reading your blog and it has made me think even more about the kind of parent I want to be and how I would like to handle a situation.

    Thanks

    Like

  7. I agree with this and I hate to see children disrespected. I cringe when family members get the kids to say silly things and even swear words for their amusement. This includes a sister who work with kids. I am so close to speaking up but don’t know how to approach it meaningfully.

    All that said, since having my second child, I struggle sometimes to be as kind as I want to be to my first born and at most stressful times I have even pushed her away or shouted at her. I apologise and I feel terrible, I’m trying so hard but I’m sometimes I’m just exhausted. Your article was a reminder of the Mum I want to be.

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  8. Hi there,
    Thank you for writing this. I will be sharing this too. Have come across Magda Gerber, or Janet Lansbury? They advocate for the respectful treatment of infants and toddlers (children of all ages). This message should be spread far and wide in order for respect to become ingrained and the “normal” way of interacting with young ones.

    Like

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